Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

by Duncan J. Watts
     
 

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The pioneering young scientist whose work on the structure of small worlds has triggered an avalanche of interest in networks.

In this remarkable book, Duncan Watts, one of the principal architects of network theory, sets out to explain the innovative research that he and other scientists are spearheading to create a blueprint of our connected planet. Whether

Overview

The pioneering young scientist whose work on the structure of small worlds has triggered an avalanche of interest in networks.

In this remarkable book, Duncan Watts, one of the principal architects of network theory, sets out to explain the innovative research that he and other scientists are spearheading to create a blueprint of our connected planet. Whether they bind computers, economies, or terrorist organizations, networks are everywhere in the real world, yet only recently have scientists attempted to explain their mysterious workings.

From epidemics of disease to outbreaks of market madness, from people searching for information to firms surviving crisis and change, from the structure of personal relationships to the technological and social choices of entire societies, Watts weaves together a network of discoveries across an array of disciplines to tell the story of an explosive new field of knowledge, the people who are building it, and his own peculiar path in forging this new science.

"Duncan Watts is so clear and so readable about one of the world's most mystifying subjects that he will probably leave you with your thinking changed forever."-Alan Alda

"Watts smoothly combines a historical survey of the field with real-world examples. Well-done [and] comprehensive."-Kirkus Reviews starred review

"Here is a wonderful science book you won't want to put down...relevant to an amazing variety of subjects, including epidemics, markets, scientific collaboration, and terrorism."-Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel Laureate in physics, cofounder of the Santa Fe Institute

"Written in as accessible and jaunty a fashion as James Watson's Double Helix, SixDegrees provides a deft, informative, and deeply engaging story of how the multidisciplinary science of networks has come into being."-Robert K. Merton, University Professor Emeritus, Columbia University.

"This is a story that is both personal and remarkable for its ability to convey the wonder of complex science."-Bill Miller, CEO of Legg Mason Funds

"Watts's insights into the interconnections that bind us together...offer a vital new framework for understanding our global society."-Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University

"A deft, informative and deeply engaging story...A splendid achievement."-Robert K. Merton, University Professor Emeritus, Columbia University

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Watts, a Columbia University sociology professor, combines his own research in network theory with summaries of the work of others who he says are "collectively solving problems which cannot be solved by any single individual or even any single discipline." The result is a dizzyingly complex blend of mathematics, computer science, biology and social theory that, despite the best efforts at clarification, often remains opaque, buried in scientific language and graphs. The book also assumes a high level of unfamiliarity on the reader's part with the subject, treating phenomena like the 17th-century tulip craze or the "Kevin Bacon game" as fresh news. Even more surprising, however, are the significant omissions- there is not a single mention of "tipping points," for example, the subject of a recent bestselling book. The parts of the book dealing with the author's own research are strong on science, but frustratingly vague on the social network of scientists with whom Watts has worked. There are intermittent highlights in the scientific account, such as an explanation of why casual acquaintances are more likely to provide life-changing opportunities than best friends, or a look at how New York City's reaction to September 11 illustrates current thinking on network connectivity and disruption, but, despite an admirable effort to syncretize discoveries in several fields, the book as a whole is too dry to compete effectively with the popularized accounts that exist for each separate field. Illus. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Columbia sociology professor Watts sums up his groundbreaking work on the networks, from computers to terrorist cells, that shape contemporary life. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
One of its young pioneers explains the rudiments of network theory, a science almost too new to have a name.

As an example of the complexity of networks, Watts (Sociology/Columbia Univ.) takes the 1996 western US power-grid failure, caused largely by the very safety features meant to prevent a blackout. The nature of a network is determined not by its individual members, the author reminds us, but by their connectedness. The title alludes to the proposition that each of us could communicate to anyone else on earth with no more than six intermediate steps--preposterous at first glance, considering that most of us stay within a small circle of acquaintances. But, as Watts points out early on, even a small degree of randomness in the network, such as one neighbor with out-of-town friends, makes for a high degree of interconnectedness among its parts. He details the research by mathematicians, biologists, physicists, and others that has led to the understanding that networks, whether of people, computers, or even the neural cells of nematode worms, have structural features in common. And while one might sneer at the insights of physicists into human behavior, a key breakthrough in network theory was the recognition that certain structures are universal. The mechanism that starts a large crowd clapping in unison without any signal also lets all the crickets in one meadow synchronize their chirping. Computer viruses spread in much the same way as the flu. Watts smoothly combines a historical survey of the field with real-world examples, often drawn from his personal experience. An extensive bibliography, graded by degree of mathematical sophistication, will be useful to those readersinterested in pursuing the subject further.

Well-done, comprehensive overview of a field that’s likely to be an important growth area of science.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393041422
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
02/28/2003
Edition description:
1ST
Pages:
448
Product dimensions:
6.54(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.26(d)

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